In a significant report published recently, the UK’s Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC), led by the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute, has deployed unique methods to reveal a series of insights to inform stakeholders around the proposed Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge Arc.
The arc is set =to be one of the UK’s largest housing and transport projects. One million new homes could be created by 2050, along with a new road Expressway, a new rail link, and new and innovative forms of urbanisation.
The Oxford University-led ITRChas developed globally unique methods for simulating future population, housing growth and demand for infrastructure services, says Dr Edward Oughton, ITRC’ssenior research associate. The methods explore how the necessary infrastructure, including 5G and other digital communications, can be provided affordably, securely and sustainably.
The report provides a preliminary analysis of key questions across elements such as 5G strategies to meet data demand, the impact of population growth on demand for 5G infrastructure, use of brownfield macro cell sites, and new 5G spectrum vs greenfield small cells. It also examines factors such as travel time, carbon footprint, water usage, housing developments, pollution and environmental impact.
Local authorities and central government have lacked independent systematic analysis due to the complexities of planning for such an unprecedentedly complex project. The ITRC approach fills that gap and helps inform decision-making at all scales.
The digital communications modelling for the Arc shows headline results including:
- Full fibre broadband can be delivered for between £1.59-2.34 billion (€1.87-2.75 billion) depending on the scenario and deployment strategy
- Mobile data demand to 2030 can be met throughout the Arc using (Non-Stand Alone) 5G for £160 million (€188 million) per operator
- Digital infrastructure needs to be considered at the greenfield planning stage, particularly when planning new transportation corridors
- Baseline growth can be met using brownfield macro cell sites and new 5G spectrum
- Greenfield small cells should only be deployed in the densest urban areas.
Within the Arc the main short-term use for 5G is enhanced mobile broadband.
We also anticipate demand driven by digital transformation in vertical industry sectors where there will be use-cases in utilities, manufacturing, health and automotive.
Currently a big government push through the UK’s Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) is helping to explore how 5G connectivity could improve productivity throughout various industrial sectors, particularly in manufacturing.
My research on the Arc and other 5G research shows that the issue we need to overcome most pressingly is achieving ubiquitous reliable internet connectivity.
The costs of achieving widespread 5G are large but the benefits it could bring from improved productivity in industrial settings are hugely important given the productivity growth issues that the UK has been facing over the past decade. Making improvements to national productivity will not only generate greater economic value, but also make more capital available for new investments into technology and skills.
One of the areas which my colleagues modelled for the Arc analysis was road transportation, which is very relevant currently because of the shift towards connected vehicles. Recent analysis includes coupling the national transport model developed at the University of Southampton with the national 5G assessment model applied here to the Arc.
This provides unprecedented insight into the data demand likely to be placed on the cellular network as more vehicles become connected to the internet, as demonstrated for Oxford city centre in a recent project on network planning.
As well as modelling the Arc, ITRC’s analysis has been utilised by stakeholders in UK as well as internationally, including the United Nations, the World Bank and governments around the world.
Future 5G research may further explore the technical requirements of different vertical use-cases in different industrial sectors.
For example, I’m interested in the question of how much it costs to provide highly reliable 5G access on-the-go for both people and things. This is vital information for policymakers as they try to make decisions related to telecoms market structure and long-term infrastructure investment. The challenge is in trying to optimise telecom resources to maximise the coverage and capacity of digital connectivity.
The modelling we did for the Arc provided evidence in areas relating to mobile data growth, which 5G infrastructure strategies were cost-efficient, and the economics of 5G supply and demand. However, it could be applied to other cities or regions in the UK, or across the world.
ITRC’s National Infrastructure Systems Model (NISMOD) can also be used in other infrastructure areas, such as identifying complexities related to infrastructure failure and how disruption to one infrastructure network or an area might indirectly affect another – from a single power station going down to the impact of massive flooding across a city on transport, businesses and homes.
Download the Arc analysis executive summary or request the full report here
“Local and central government have lacked independent systematic analysis due to the complexities of planning for such an unprecedentedly complex project. The ITRC approach fills that gap.”
The author is Dr Edward Oughton, senior research associate senior research associate, ITRC.